What do you wear when you come to the UAE? Well, in business it's always better to be conservative. For men, this means getting suited up, although in some office environments a shirt and trousers will suffice. Females should make an effort not to wear too figure hugging clothes and to cover up their flesh, until they are able to figure out what is acceptable in the workplace. A shirt and trousers or long skirt would be fine, therefore.
Outside work, anything really goes, to a limit. In the malls, many wear jeans and t-shirts or the like, and clubbing gear is as you would expect elsewhere. Some Emirates are more conservative. For example, in Sharjah, even men are not permitted to wear shorts. Stick to the laws of the land, and you should be ok. Walking around in hot pants and a tank top simply wont work in the UAE.
Understanding that heat is a big issue so dress in light clothes with this in mind. However, remember that everywhere is air conditioned, so while you may have to bear the heat for a few minutes, the air conditioning can cause problems. The malls in the heat of summer are particularly cold, and women should take a shawl or equivalent when going to the cinema. Bear in mind that apart from western dress, there are a whole range of styles of clothes that are adopted, from the bright African gowns to the flowing Indian Shalwar Kameez outfits.
As a rule of thumb for females, dress Western in Dubai, a little more conservative in Abu Dhabi, and cover your skin in Sharjah, bar your face, neck and hands.
To give you a brief understanding of the clothing used by UAE Nationals, below we have detailed the dress adopted by both male and female Nationals.
UAE National Dress - Male
Kandura The Kandura, or dishdash, as it is referred to by the expats, is the long white cloak that male UAE Nationals wear. You will be amazed at how these remain crease free during the day - and they never look dirty. During the winter months, a whole realm of different colours come out, with browns and greys not uncommon. You may have seen pictures of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid walking in his iconic colours that are now his trademark. Only the traditional white is seen in summer because it reflects the suns rays. The men may change their Kandura a number of times in the day to go to different events (work, prayers, dinner etc) and so the men's clothes remain looking spick and span. A UAE National might have 50 or so Kandura's in his closet, and have up to 20 of those with the dry cleaners at any one time. A typical kandura would cost between 100 and 200 Dirhams to get tailored. You may see the difference in those Kanduras that are worn by those in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In Dubai, you can sometimes have Kanduras with collars and cuffs, as opposed to the traditional types.
Guthra The guthra is the headscarf sported by the males. The most popular colours are the plain white, or the red and white checks. These checks are traditional to the Beduin, since the material used was tougher than the other and useful for protection against the elements in the desert. Nowadays, colours come in all types to match with the latest fashion. Also, the way that guthra is worn can define who someone is.
Egal The Egal is the black rope that fixes the headscarf in place. In days gone by, these would be used by Bedouin to tie their camel's feet down during the night while they were travelling. More of the younger nationals these days do not wear their egal and tie their guthra in a different way on their head. This is called hamdaniya.
Ghafiyah Ever seen a Muslim prayer hat? The ghafiyah looks exactly like this, but since it is usually under the guthra, you wont necessarily see it. It is usually white in colour with designs woven in.
Kerkusha Look closely at a male's kandura, and you will see a small string like contraption flowing from the neck. This is the kerkusha. Some aliken it to a tie, and it is not always worn, though those who do wear it sometimes are inclined to play around with it.
Bisht Those in power can be seen wearing the bisht which is similar to a jacket that is worn on top of the kandura. Also, the bisht is worn during specical occasions such as Eid or weddings, for example, and also when visiting a Sheikh.
Faneela A faneela is like a vest worn under the Kandura.
Woozar A woozar is a a piece of white cloth which is tied around the waist under the Kandura. You'll never see one!
Na-aal These are essentially the sandals that are worn. You may find that shoes are actually worn instead. People say that those in Dubai wear shoes whereas those in Abu Dhabi are sandal wearers.
UAE National Dress - Female
Abaya The long flowing black gown worn by the UAE National Females is known as the Abaya. Somewhat misunderstood by the west, the abaya is an elegant piece of attire and used to cover the female clothing. Abayas range from the plain to those with intricate jewel designs. Accordingly, the prices range between 100 and 2500 Dirhams for each Abaya. Ladies will wear western dress, local dress or even indian type clothes, under their abayas. The main reason for wearing the Abaya is concern for modesty, with the most devoted covering their faces, as well as all viewable skin.
Shela The Shela is the piece of material used to loosely cover their head. This is sometimes black, especially those used to cover the face. And since the material is very light it is possible for the lady to see through the material. More recently, the shela is usually designer material, the most popular being Givenchy, Dior and the like and these are sometimes matched with their hangbags to produce a super cool outfit.
Hijab The Hijab is not usually worn by UAE Nationals, and more usually by some Muslims from the other GCC countries. The Hijab is a covering of the head, to ensure that the hair is not exposed, usually with one or two pieces of material.
Burqa The Burqa actually represents two items: one, the covering of the head except for a slit for the eyes; the other item is the metallic coloured object used to cover part of the face, and these days is only used by the older generation - this is specific to the UAE.
Gishwa The Gishwa is the thin black veil that covers the face of the female. It is just dark enough for you not to be able to make out who is underneath, and just light enough for the female to see through. This makes it easier for the woman to travel around in freedom
Jelabia Mukhawara Although, in normal life, you will never see this, this item is the traditional outfit worn by the females, similar to a flowing gown in some great colours. Worn to weddings or special occasions.
Gafaaz Sometimes, you will see Ladies wearing gloves, to ensure that all of their skin is covered. Gafaaz is the literal translation of gloves in Arabic.